“A Heavenly Scene” Colchester Federated Church, November 1, 2020, (Revelation 7:9-17) All Saints Day
Today is All Saints Day, and it’s not every year that November 1 falls on a Sunday. So it’s exciting that we can celebrate All Saints Sunday on All Saints Day. As a reminder, All Saints Day developed because there were so many saints and martyrs that were remembered in the Roman Catholic Church that the Church literally ran out of days in the calendar. The solution was to designate November 1 as the day to commemorate all the saints who couldn’t have their own individual dates and whose names may have even been forgotten in some quarters of the Church over time. So all canonized saints are commemorated on November 1 and all the faithful who have died are commemorated on November 2, All Souls Day.
Protestants put our own spin on things. With our belief in the priesthood of all believers (we heard about some of this last Sunday to celebrate Reformation Sunday), we have historically combined these days. On All Saints Sunday (the first Sunday in November), we don’t just remember the famous figures of the Christian Church. Rather, we tend to focus on those people we have personally known and loved and lost in the past year. We combined All Saints Day and All Souls Day and observe this special day on the first Sunday in November—today.
So All Saints for Protestants revolves around giving thanks for any person who has been influential in our spiritual formation and growth. We remember the influence that every single life can have. We remember and give thanks to God. We contemplate what a life well lived looks like. We support one another as we mourn those who have died in the last year. As a line from one of my favorite hymns (“Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant”) goes, “I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you. I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.” All Saints is just one of those Sundays where we can truly be there for one another as a church family.
Perhaps All Saint Sunday is more important this year than ever with our country mourning the loss of 227,000 people who have died from Covid-19. We haven’t really had a collective moment of national mourning for those whose lives have been lost because of this virus. Instead we’ve had arguments with one another about wearing masks. We’ve debated who can be trusted and how various politicians have handled this pandemic. The mourning in this charged political environment has been more so person by person and family by family.
It seems important to remember that though we hear a number like 227,000 deaths from Covid-19 (and that number seems enormous and hard to fathom)—that number is actually individual lives. Some newspapers have taken the time to feature the stories of those we have loved and lost due to the coronavirus so that it personalizes that huge number. Because these are people that may be remembered not just by their immediate families and friends, but also remembered in churches like ours across the country for those Christians who observe All Saints. Those lives mattered and those people certainly matter to God.
Given these divisive times, the mourning for those who have died has been more complicated than mourning during a pandemic may have been in the first place. Not to mention the complications with large gatherings and funerals, with all of the protocols that must be followed to protect the living as we mourn the dead. I know that some of you have experienced this as you have lost a loved one during the pandemic and found yourselves planning services and family gatherings. So grief during a pandemic, even if your loved one didn’t die from the coronavirus, has felt especially heavy.
In some ways, it feels like our entire nation is grieving right now. Remember that one of the stages of grief is anger, so that certainly comes to the surface. We all know that the presidential election is this week. Some of us have already voted by mail and some of us are voting in person on Tuesday. It never seems out of line for me as your Pastor to remind you to vote. It’s not productive to complain about the direction of our country, state, or town if we didn’t even take the time to cast our ballot and make our voices heard. So please be sure to vote. Though it also seems important to remind all of us to vote our values. The United Church of Christ has long had voting campaigns called “Our Faith, Our Vote” encouraging people of faith to make our voices heard. And when we vote, vote for what we hold near and dear to our hearts. Vote for what we believe in. Vote for candidates whose values and vision we share. Vote for issues we care about. Remember it is your faith and your vote this week.
When we vote, we remember that none of us are in this life alone. There’s a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us to give us courage in times such as these. And there will be saints who come into our communities long after we are gone. We remember that every life has worth and meaning, that we belong to one another. We are blessed with glimpses and visions of the great cloud of witnesses that we remember on All Saints.
As John of Patmos describes the heavenly throne scene in the Book of Revelation, “There was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
This is such a beautiful image of the Kingdom of God—this great crowd that no one could number. Not everyone is exactly the same. We notice that people are there from every nation. Not just from the United States of America (which wasn’t even around when John of Patmos wrote The Book of Revelation, but just to be clear on that.) We notice that there are people before that heavenly throne from every tribe. From every people. Speaking every language.
The people standing before the throne and before the Lamb aren’t this monolithic group. Everybody is invited to be part of this great crowd. Everybody is invited to stand with the angels and the elders and the four living creatures, to worship God, saying, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and always. Amen.” Yes, thanks be to God for this heavenly scene to give us courage in our own time. Amen.